The Maryland Arts Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary season with an excellent production of the Leonard Bernstein musical hit, "West Side Story," being performed through July 13 in the newly renovated Stephens Hall on the Towson State University campus.
Directed by veteran Broadway actor/director Ken Urmston, this version (with a large cast of 35 members) professionally coordinates admirable mood and motion, dance, drama and song.
The 1957 hit became a milestone in musical drama, but in light of the turbulent present, the book by Arthur Laurents seems thin and rather senseless. Still, as conceived by Jerome Robins with music by Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it packs a certain dramatic tension and power.
Inspired by William Shakespeare's tragic romance, "Romeo and Juliet," the musical version follows the same lines. The two disputing families are represented by two warring Hell's Kitchen gangs -- the Jets and the Sharks.
Maria and Tony, on opposing sides, fall in love but it is not destined to be. It is the age old conflict between traditions and customs and coping with modern urban life. The play focuses on hate, prejudice and ignorance fostered on the grimy streets of New York City.
The score by Bernstein and Sondheim is still strong with memorable songs -- "Maria," "Tonight," "Somewhere," "One Hand, One Heart" -- sung by a very talented cast accompanied by a full orchestra under the fine direction of Michael Decker.
"Gee, Officer Krupke," sung by B. Thomas Rinaldi and the Jets, is a delight. Beth Weber is a lovely Maria with matching voice and David Lee Simmons is a most convincing Tony. Their duets are enchanting.
Shannon Wolman shines as Anita. Also outstanding are Shawn Patrick Doyle as Riff and D. Scott Hoover as Bernardo. The moving "Somewhere" solo is executed beautifully by Carolyn Black.
A thoroughly charming version of Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, "Ah, Wilderness!," a wonderful slice of small town American life, is being presented by Theatre Hopkins on the grounds of Evergreen House through June 30.
Directed with a gentle and sensitive hand by Suzanne Straughn Pratt, the story of an ordinary couple, Nat and Essie Miller, unfolds between massive trees in the enchanting Evergreen dell.
The Millers share their house with Essie's brother, Sid, who is undependable and occasionally drunk (excellently portrayed by Tom Blair), Nat's sister, Lily, who has had a 20-year romance with Sid (played with poignancy by Gina Molling), and their four children - placid Arthur (well done by Tom Seibert), rebellious teen-age Richard (sincerely executed by young Chris Eberhardt), coltish Mildred (nicely done by Leisa Kelley) and little Tommy (played sweetly by Garrett Neal).
The couple is disturbed over Richard's absorption with writers Swinburne, Shaw and Wilde and his railing against American capitalism. Spurned by his girlfriend, Richard goes on a bender and gets a lesson in the hard facts of life.
A particularly amusing scene is when Nat (played with easy naturalness by Bruce Godfrey) attempts to explain the mysteries of "sexual desire" to his son.
It is a coming of age for Richard and a sweet bonding between father and son.
Marley Willard is very believable as Nat's inhibited wife. J. Martin McDonough is a properly rude bartender. Laura Covello convinces as a shady lady of the evening.
The first Baltimore Playwrights Festival offering is "Twilight with Roses" by Sally Darnowsky being staged by the Avalon Players in the Catonsville Career Center through June 30.
In this poorly directed and enacted production, an old lady (Dickens Warfield) is bullied and killed by her newly hired, very disturbed nurse. There is a germ of an idea here but the play takes forever to get going with redundant aimless dialogue and little action except at the end.
There is no decent play structure, plot or character development. The entire work is unrealistic and without believable motivation.